It’s not well understood, but in politics, there are two basic types of politicians: Those who hew closely to the well-established rules of both their own political party and the political system in which they operate, and those who depart from these rules and ideology to establish their own.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call the former Type I politicians and the latter Type II politicians. Now, very few politicians completely disregard the rules or their party’s ideology completely all the time; pure Type II politicians are rarely successful at any level in any kind of established democracy. For an example of a pure Type II politician, don’t think simply of minor-party candidates: Even they have their own establishment to follow, at least to a certain degree. Instead, think of the perennial candidates who constantly run for office over the course of their lifetime but rarely, if ever, manage to get elected to anything.

A typical example of a true Type II politician here in the United States would be Vermin Supreme, the performance artist who’s run in every presidential election since 1992. While he’s run for a few other offices as well, he’s never been so much as elected to his local city council: His positions are so patently absurd that they disqualify him from even those offices (Mandatory tooth-brushing isn’t exactly a political movement that’s swept the nation). The United Kingdom has a whole political party that functions in this vein, the Raving Monster Loony Party; they’ve actually managed to win a few elections here and there.

There are, quite obviously, more purely Type I politicians who manage to be successful and actually get elected, but they’re not the norm either – at least, not in Maine. For years, Maine Republicans regularly failed to win many elections for higher office in this state because they ran candidates who were far too much typical Type I conservative politicians in a swing state like Maine. Republicans who do manage to get elected in Maine are not usually typical conservatives, but vary from that norm in some notable way.

Democrats, too, have fallen prey to this temptation: Over and over, they’ve run liberals from southern Maine in statewide races, despite their consistent failure time and time again. As with Republicans, Mainers tend to prefer Democrats for higher office who who are willing to buck their party now and again. Regardless of their party or ideology, Mainers don’t tend to embrace typical politicians. That makes it difficult for the national parties to operate here, since they can’t just recruit someone with a standard political resume and run your typical cookie-cutter campaign.

When Republicans were finally able to retake the Blaine House in 2010 after years of futility, it wasn’t with a typical conservative, but with Paul LePage – a maverick who was able to establish his own brand apart from the Maine Republican Party. He had both new policy ideas and a new approach to campaigning that served him well, allowing Republicans to elect (and re-elect) a conservative governor despite the state’s notorious independent streak.

While LePage’s demeanor and style often aggravated centrist voters and his fellow Republicans alike, they nonetheless appealed to a wider swath of voters outside the traditional Republican base. Sen. Susan Collins similarly frequently frustrates the conservative base of the Maine GOP, but she, too, is able to appeal to more voters than typical Republicans. The willingness of both Paul LePage and Susan Collins to buck their own party and forge their own path – to be Type II politicians at times – helps explain how two such disparate politicians can both find success statewide in Maine.

This paradigm also helps explain the rise of Donald Trump and his continued influence over the national Republican Party. His willingness to throw aside longstanding Republican policies – like being critical of free trade – established him as more of a Type II politician, and enabled him to forge his own coalition of voters outside the traditional Republican base.

Whenever any Type II politician succeeds, the question of his legacy is whether his supporters can successfully adopt his ideology and tactics; if they don’t, then his influence will end the moment he departs. A smart Type II politician wants to see their candidacy as establishing a broader movement, rather than merely the establishment of a cult of personality that is loyal to them alone.

The question for the GOP going forward is whether Trump has done that in the minds of voters.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel


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